Only the Best for Family
Da Vinci Foods in Calabash is thriving despite significant change and tremendous loss.
Lorraine Cifelli and her oldest son, Anthony Jr., are now the driving force behind Da Vinci Foods in Calabash. They have overcome challenges presented by COVID, drastic fluctuations in the economy and loss of the family’s patriarch by staying true to their mission and holding tight to their faith.
“God helped us,” Lorraine says. “Only God could have gotten us through such significant and unexpected change and have us still fulfill our obligations to customers.”
Lorraine’s husband, Tony Cifelli Sr., came to the United States when he was only 16. He arrived in 1970 with his immediate family and settled in New Jersey. Tony met Lorraine while attending Montclair State University.
“He was standing with a group of his friends and said, ‘Do you see that girl? I’m going to marry her,’” recalls Lorraine fondly. They were married in 1975 and remained dedicated to each other for 47 years.
Together, Lorraine and Tony began T and L Foods in New Jersey, where they worked hard to provide high-quality foods and products to Italian delicatessens in their community.
“We were just a couple of kids who didn’t even have two nickels to rub together and we eventually turned it into a multimillion-dollar business,” she says.
The business grew and in the 1990s, they renamed the company Da Vinci Foods. Anthony, Lorraine and Tony’s oldest son, leads food distribution services.
“My father wanted to cater to the Italian community,” Anthony says. “While Cifelli is certainly Italian, it is hard to spell and harder to pronounce. He picked the name Da Vinci, like Leonardo Da Vinci. He knew customers would remember it.”
Tony Sr. decided in 2000 to expand food distribution services to the Carolinas.
“I thought it was crazy, we were having trouble keeping up with the customers we already had,” Anthony says. “But my father believed it would work.”
Da Vinci Foods is now the primary wholesale food distributor for numerous restaurants and pizzerias in eastern North Carolina and the greater Myrtle Beach area. They offer meats, cheeses, pastas, sauces, paper products, baked goods, Italian specialty foods and more.
Lorraine and Tony retired after moving to the Carolinas, allowing Anthony to manage the company. Driven by his customers, Tony wanted to open a small retail store where individual customers could come in regularly and find their favorite Italian foods.
On October 15, 2020, they opened an Italian market in Calabash.
“People who come from the North couldn’t find the foods they wanted,” Lorraine says. “They were begging my husband to open a store. It has completely changed our lives.”
During a time when COVID was at its peak and many businesses were contemplating closure, the Da Vinci Foods family was thriving. They were overwhelmed by the positive response from the community. “COVID was painful, but it was also a blessing because we were able to successfully continue meeting the needs of our customers,” Anthony says.
And then, on March 20, 2022, the family unexpectedly suffered tremendous loss with the passing of the beloved family patriarch.
“When my husband died, it was incredible to see how many of our customers came in crying because they all loved him,” Lorraine says. “He was the happiest when he was out in the store on the floor talking to customers.”
It’s only been a year since Tony’s passing and Lorraine and her son have carried on the family legacy of providing quality Italian foods to the community. They are determined to make Tony proud and honor the family’s business motto, “Only the Best for Family!”
“Our customers are an extension of our family, so we’ll do anything for them,” Lorraine says with immense passion. She greets every customer who visits the store in Calabash with enthusiasm and a smile, “Welcome to Da Vinci Foods, I’m Lorraine. Please let me know what I can do for you.”
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271 Calabash Road NW, Unit B, Calabash
Open Thursdays and Fridays, 8 am to 5 pm